White Noise

Halfway through OMD’s 13th album, there’s a brief piece – part song, part collage – entitled Precision & Decay, a requiem for Detroit’s industrial decline. A ghostly melody unfolds over a metallic bassline and squidgy synths, before, towards its end, a formal voice from an old news reel declares: “There is no such thing as ‘Labour Saving Machinery’”.

The line is striking for two reasons: it summarises The Punishment Of Luxury’s key theme – that contemporary materialism has in fact cursed rather than favoured us – and also, in a sense, encapsulates the manner in which OMD develop their music. Their machines may do the heavy lifting, but, without Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey, the work would be worthless.

Admittedly, The Punishment Of Luxury does little new: Kraftwerk’s influence remains conspicuous, not least on the sombre What Have We Done, Humphreys’ sole vocal contribution, an exploration of the end of a relationship which starts like a waltz-time Radio- Activity. There’s also Art Eats Art, a slightly lazy ‘list song’ which nonetheless melds the German pioneers’ aesthetic to Lipps Inc’s Funkytown so it sounds like a winning, leftfield Pet Shop Boys tune.

But they pair these old habits with experimental tendencies reawoken following anniversary performances of 1983’s
‘difficult’ Dazzle Ships.

“It’s as though, years later, they’ve located a middle ground that satisfies both their pop and art instincts, one that allows the musique concrète of La Mitrailleuse to sit comfortably alongside Robot Man’s accessible mischief.” – Wyndham Wallace

Consequently, much like 2013’s English Electric before it, this latest collection is full of prime OMD. Isotype, which addresses a typically OMDesque topic – the early 20th Century development of the titular picture language – is full of serene melodies, and the cheerful chug of One More Time considers reconciliation with a former lover. As We Open, So We Close offers precise slaps, buzzes and a sudden drop into silence, while The View From Here provides a succinct conclusion, both motivational and soothing. The Punishment Of Luxury is, in other words, familiar but rewarding.